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Vinson Expedition Climbing Mountain Madness

Antarctic Christmas Greeting from MM guide Thai Verzone

Feliz Navi­dades from Thai,

Well, I’m back on the ice and in yet anoth­er new and amaz­ing place with ice­bergs, pen­guins, seals, whales, pierc­ing moun­tains and yet nev­er-end­ing ice. Yes­ter­day, 5 glaciol­o­gist and I flew on a British Dash 7 (a 4 prop antarc­tic shut­tle plane) down to the Antar­tic Penisu­la from Pun­ta Are­nas Chile. We land­ed on the most souther­ly Antarc­tic Research sta­tion which can land wheeled planes on a ice free run­way . It is called Rothera Sta­tion, which is a British base with about 80 sum­mer inhab­i­tants. We’ll be based here for the next few days arrang­ing the car­go that I had sent down in 4 ship­ping con­tain­ers from Chile about a month ago. If the weath­er holds, which it has­n’t and is noto­ri­ous­ly hor­rif­ic where we will be putting our camp, we will start the series of flights to put in our ice core drilling camp. It will take about 12 flights in to put our camp gear, drill equip­ment, geo­des­ic dome, about 8 fuel drums and 6 antarc­tic campers on a pear tree to place our field camp right at the source of the Larsen B iceshelf. Once we are there, we will build quite an exten­sive camp, then build a drill rig with a 20 foot geo­des­ic dome, and start core sam­pling down to about 1500 feet one meter at a time which will take up to 45 days. Whewwww, it’s going to be a lot of work for sure…

Our whole expe­di­tion is quite inter­na­tion­al. Besides being based in south­ern Chile and at a British research sta­tion, our pilots are Cana­di­an, our two drillers are Russ­ian (clas­sic sto­ic Rus­sians), we have one Ital­ian grad stu­dent, our head glaciol­o­gist is Amer­i­cano, and Felix Andean glaciol­o­gist from the Cordillera Blan­ca de Peru. My job is titled as the camp man­ag­er, which is essen­tial­ly do what it takes to get the research team and their sci­ence equip­ment to Antarc­ti­ca, build a sol­id and safe camp, sup­port them dur­ing the drilling process, and get every­one back safe­ly and time­ly. For the most part I am orga­niz­ing the logis­tics with the direc­tion and help of an entire logis­ti­cal sup­port staff based in our head­quar­ters in Den­ver and off the research ves­sel, the Nathaniel B Palmer via irrid­i­um sat phones. The logis­tics are quite dynam­ic from coor­di­nat­ing 4 ship­ping con­tain­ers sent via ice­break­er and to the camp via 15 twin otter shut­tles to mak­ing sure zip­pers work on all the sleep­ing bags and every­one has a fork to eat with. I’m also a bit of liv­ing insur­ance to deal with any safe­ty and med­ical issues that may arise, which my hope is all pre­ven­ta­tive work.

The next good weath­er win­dow, I’m hop­ing to coor­di­nate a recon­nais­sance flight with just three of us to put in one load. We will also look for a car­go depot which was put near our camp about two weeks ago, which is like­ly buried in snow. This car­go depot also has a snow machine which I hope we can get run­ning and start mov­ing some of that car­go from that loca­tion about 4km away from where the glaciol­o­gist have decid­ed to put the drill site. After that ini­tial recon, we will fly back to Rothera before we get stuck out.

This loca­tion as I am learn­ing more and more is one of the best places in the world if you want high winds, lots of snow, and sig­nif­i­cant days of white out con­di­tions.… hooray for us. But it will also be an amaz­ing project as the ice core sam­ples will give us pos­si­bly ten to twen­ty thou­sand years of cli­mate records which will help us under­stand more about cli­mate change, and par­tic­u­lar­ly what hap­pened to the Larsen B Iceshelf which had a spec­tac­u­lar col­lapse in 2002. The Larsen B became a known hot spot’ for glob­al warm­ing and has attract­ed a lot of inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic atten­tion. What was par­tic­u­lar­ly of high inter­est was the rate in which the Larsen Ice shelf col­lapse, an area of the size of Rhode island dis­in­te­grat­ed over only a 3 week peri­od. Our drill team is part of a larg­er mul­ti-nation­al effort called LARIS­SA, orga­nized over the last 2 years to study the Larsen B Iceshelf.

Here’s a quick descrip­tion of our project called LARIS­SA:
The Ice Core Drilling Team will trav­el to Antarc­ti­ca to study the Larsen Ice Shelf sys­tem as part of the Larsen Ice Shelf Sys­tem, Antarc­ti­ca (LARIS­SA) Project. LARIS­SA is an NSF-fund­ed project that will exam­ine the biol­o­gy, glaciol­o­gy, geol­o­gy, and oceanog­ra­phy of the Larsen Ice Shelf sys­tem. Since the 1970s, a num­ber of Antarc­tic ice shelves have bro­ken up. In 2002, a huge sec­tion of the Larsen Ice Shelf dis­in­te­grat­ed in the largest such event ever record­ed. This had a major impact on the region, in all aspects of the Earth sys­tem. The LARIS­SA project researchers hope to gain insight into the fac­tors that lead to ice shelf col­lapse, as well as the envi­ron­men­tal impact of such break-up events, which may become more fre­quent as cli­mate change pro­gress­es.” — Press release

Mer­ry Xmas and hope your win­ter sea­son goes well.

Cheers from Antarctic